Them vs. Us


Was it Mort Sahl who said, “Just because I’m a paranoid, doesn’t mean that they’re not out to get me”?

In this week’s parsha, the narrative begins with the drama of Yaakov and his tender flock — two wives, two quasi-wives, 11 sons, a daughter — preparing to meet with an oncoming army, imposingly headed by his anything-but-fraternal “twin” brother, Esav. Yaakov fears the worst, and even as he prays to Hashem for protection and sends gifts to appease Esav, he prepares for war. The brothers meet ultimately, and Esav “ran to greet him, and hugged him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Genesis 33:4).

Rashi, the paramount medieval commentator, notes the two midrashic traditions that discuss what actually happened during “The Kiss.” Because the Torah text is unusually punctuated, with six extraneous dots marking the word va-yishakehu (“and he kissed him”), the rabbis analyzed what happened.

One midrashic opinion is that the kiss was insincere — that Esav actually tried to bite Yaakov’s throat out after deceptively inducing his brother to relax his defenses. The other opinion is that after 20 years driven by relentless hate, Esav laid eyes on his brother, and it all came to him at once: He is my brother, for God’s sake, my brother. And he kissed him with all his love.

For many, that midrashic discussion historically has served as the narrative’s denouement and the ultimate launching pad for distrusting non-Jews, all of them. According to the opinion that Esav tried to bite the neck, not to kiss it, that animus reflects an immutable law of nature, comparable to gravity, only with metaphor attached: “It is a known law that Esav hates Yaakov.”

Metaphorically interpreted: All non-Jews are out to get us.

I was taught that law as a child being schooled in Brooklyn. They all are out to get us.

As for the second interpretation, which bears equal weight in the original midrashic discussion — that Esav kissed his brother lovingly — well, it never was taught to us as kids. We did not even have to know it for the test. I only discovered it years later, when on my initiative I looked at the original source discussion.

Certainly, ours is a history of being targeted by “them” for no reason other than our being “us.” The Christian, en route to liberate the Holy Land from the infidel Muslim Saracens, stopped along watering holes throughout Europe to massacre whole Jewish bystander communities.

Three centuries later, as a bubonic plague took hold throughout Europe, insane justification somehow was found to murder one-third of our people. Three centuries later, Bogdan Chmielnitzki and the Cossack massacres. Three centuries later, Hitler, the Nazis and their European confederates. Not to mention the Inquisition in Spain, the expulsions from lands as gentle as France and England, the persecutions of Mashad, the mellahs of Morocco and the ghettos of Italy and the June 1941 Iraqi Shavuot pogrom after the fall of the Golden Square.

So many times we got caught in the crossfire of other people, insane and crazy with one or another agenda of hate, who stopped by along the way to target us, too. As recently as Mumbai, where goons and thugs fighting over the Pakistan-India Kashmir dispute chose to perpetrate horrific evils against targeted Jewish bystanders while on a murder spree, we have been caught or targeted in their crossfire.

It is easy to see how persuasive the “known law of nature” seems to be: They all are out to get us. Just look at history. All of them are out to get us.

Only, that is not all of our history. From Righteous Gentiles who genuinely risked and sometimes gave their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust to centuries and millennia of next door neighbors who lent us milk or sugar or watered our plants and picked up our mail (yes, an anachronism) when we went on vacation, to non-Jewish employers who hired us and non-Jewish teachers who helped us learn to read and to count, a second law also exists: No, they are not all out to get us.

And despite this country’s shameful moments — Peter Stuyvesant’s governance, Ulysses Grant’s General Order No. 11, the Leo Frank lynching, the 1928 Massena Blood Libel, the years of Father Coughlin and Henry Ford and the 1991 Crown Heights Riots — we have flourished and built Torah institutions, gained huge support for Israel, including financial and military backing and the right to hold dual citizenship with her, and have been able to play a role in every aspect of this land’s culture and enterprise and civilization. We assuredly owe it to our kids to teach them that, no, all of them are not out to get us.

And because the playing field at this time and place in our history is essentially level, it is incumbent on us to conduct our affairs honestly and ethically and to expect and demand the same from those business enterprises that operate in our community or — even if they are out in the sticks of the Corn Belt — that operate to serve our community.

Rabbi Dov Fischer is adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School and is rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County, a Modern Orthodox shul in Irvine. His Web site is www.rabbidov.com.

L.A. Film Festival features a history of hate and an Israeli spy


As a schoolboy, Oren Jacoby once gave a research report about the Crusades, without “having any idea about the Jewish communities that were massacred. We were taught a sanitized version of events,” he said.

Now an acclaimed documentary filmmaker, Jacoby can safely be called an authority on the history and contemporary relevance of Christian European anti-Semitism. “Before, I was so naive,” he said. “I had wondered if this topic was something that would interest an audience in the 21st century, considering all the other problems in the world.”

Receiving its world premiere in the documentary competition at the L.A. Film Festival, Jacoby’s latest film, titled “Constantine’s Sword,” appears alongside other films featuring Jewish content, including: Julie Delpy’s “2 Days in Paris,” Jeffrey Blitz’s “Rocket Science,” Nadav Schirman’s “The Champagne Spy” and Richard Trank’s “I Have Never Forgotten You: The Life and Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal.”

“Constantine’s Sword” revolves around former Catholic priest James Carroll’s quest to understand both his personal history and how religion, politics and violence have intersected since the crucifixion of Jesus. Based on Carroll’s 2001 bestselling book and shot in four different countries, the film alternates between the past and present and includes poignant personal tales of Jewish persecution. Complex and ambitious in scope, the film also suggests provocative links between the history of Christian-fueled religious intolerance and the political clout of American Evangelical Christians, particularly in the recent story of Evangelicals infiltrating the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and pressuring non-Christians to convert.

Prior to “Constantine’s Sword,” Jacoby had directed the Academy Award-nominated 2004 documentary “Sister Rose’s Passion,” which told the tale of a Catholic nun who played a pivotal role in convincing the church to renounce the belief that the Jews killed Jesus. Both films proved intellectually and emotionally humbling.

“I thought I had known all this stuff, that I had received a good education about Western history,” he said. “But they didn’t tell you in school how the Gospels actually got written or how the Spanish Inquisition influenced the entire world.”

In “Constantine’s Sword,” Carroll interviews an Italian Jewish man and his daughter whose family had been in Rome since the days of the Roman ghetto and prospered by supplying custom-made dishes to the Vatican. The story of Edith Stein, the brilliant Jewish philosopher turned Carmelite Nun who perished at Auschwitz, also gets retold but with a new twist: Jacoby had found a letter that Stein wrote to the pope, asking him to condemn Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies.

The letter had only recently been released by the Vatican, into the custody of an aging nun at a convent.

“I got goosebumps when the nun shared the letter with us,” Jacoby said. “It’s thrilling when you discover that the story you thought was there actually does exist, and when you have direct evidence of how people’s lives were affected by religious hatred.”

As for present-day scenarios of religious intolerance, the film includes some disturbing footage of an Evangelical youth minister whipping his congregation into a zealous fervor and an interview with a young Jewish man at the Air Force Academy who’s subjected to anti-Semitic slurs. Ted Haggard, the former and disgraced leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, makes several appearances while still at the peak of his powers. The smile that spreads across his face as he equates proselytizing with religious freedom will probably send chills down a few spines.

“Ted knew why we were interviewing him, and he got a kick out of the challenge,” Jacoby recalled.

“The Champagne Spy” began when Nadav Schirman read the autobiography of Ze’ev Gur Arie, a Mossad agent who posed as an ex-Nazi horse breeder to penentrate the circle of German scientists developing missiles in Egypt in the 1960s.

“He seemed like an [Israeli] James Bond,” said Schirman, who will appear at the festival courtesy of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, a festival sponsor. “He’d have these lavish, crazy parties on his ranch, and he secretly married a German woman he had met on a train.”

But eventually the spy was arrested and imprisoned; although he made his way back to Israel “he never really came home,” Schirman said.

Torn between identities and still addicted to the glamorous life, Gur Arie moved to Germany and ended his days, frustrated and impoverished, working as a salesman in a Munich department store.

Schirman — the son of an Israeli diplomat — was fascinated by the story, in part because, while living with his family in Paris in the 1980s, he had suspected that some of his parents’ friends were Mossad agents.

He experienced his own cloak-and-daggerish intrigue trying to track down Gur Arie to obtain the rights to his book four years ago.

“I heard all kinds of bizarre stories about him — that he was training mercenaries in Africa or selling weapons in South America,” Schirman said. “But I couldn’t find him.”

“Then one day a stranger sat down next to me, listened to my problem and asked for my phone number,” Schirman continued. “Some time later, he called and said ‘The man you’re looking for is dead, but he has a son, Oded, who is coming to Israel in two weeks. Here’s Oded’s phone number, he awaits your call’ — and then boom, he hung up.”

Two weeks later, Schirman found himself face-to-face with Oded Gur Arie.
The spy’s son had 8mm film clips he had shot when he was 12 — footage depicting his father’s secret visits to the Paris apartment Oded had shared with his mother. “Over time, you can see that Gur Arie was in a different place, and that he was becoming addicted to his new identity,” Schirman said of the clips.

In “The Champagne Spy,” Oded Gur Arie speaks publicly for the first time about the steep price he and his mother paid for his father’s work. Other ex-Mossad agents also appear on camera: Schirman believes he received unprecedented access to these former operatives because “my approach was not critical or to reveal procedures, but to focus on the emotional fallout of spying and its effects on the family.”

“Constantine’s Sword” screens June 24 and 29. For more information about the LA Film Festival, visit http://www.lafilmfest.com or contact (866) 345-6337.

Ted Haggard on human sexuality from “Constantine’s Sword.”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-qYJ6_fGK4

Ties That Bind


The Rev. Rick Fish has long hair, a shaggy beard and wears
jeans and a flannel shirt. Preacher Rick, as he is called, is the friendly and
gregarious leader of The Live Ride, a church in Simi Valley that administers to
bikers. Fish also visited Jerusalem last February and fell in love with it.

“At The Jerusalem Post Web site they have a connection where
you can look at the Western Wall with a Webcam, and you can watch the events
and the bringing in of Shabbat,” he said. “I keep that on my computer all the
time.”

Fish is one of 20 Church leaders and other Christian
officials who have gathered — along with a dozen Jewish leaders — at the Church
of Rocky Peak, a large Evangelical church in Chatsworth, for a kosher dinner
and a meeting of the Israel Christian Nexus. The group, which was started in
June 2002 by writer Avi Davis and Shimon Erem, a former general in the Israeli
army, is one of many organizations (such as the Interfaith Coalition Of
StandWithUs and The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews) that is
looking to capitalize on the Evangelical Christian communities’ overwhelming
love for Israel and the Jewish people.

The Nexus, set up with a grant from the Jewish Community
Foundation, was established to provide the Christian community with pro-Israel
educational resources and to help them mobilize Israel action committees. As
there are far more Christians than Jews in America (according to some
estimates, there are over 70 million Evangelical Christians in America,
compared with 6 million Jews), their support for Israel could be crucial in
influencing government policy, visiting, and raising funds for the beleaguered
Jewish state.

“We have a common cause and a common enemy [radical Islam]
and we have a lot of mutually beneficial activities that we can undertake,” Davis
said. “They are pretty well-funded and they are an enormous power base to
current administration. A lot of George Bush’s views about Israel were formed
by his association with the church, which is why it is important for us to
cultivate that group.”

The Jewish cultivation of Christians (and vice versa) is a
new development in the bloody history of Jews and Christians, which for
centuries has been rife with anti-Semitism and the atrocities of the Crusades,
the Inquisition, pogroms and blood libels. However, after World War II, the
relationship took a turn, and Christianity softened its stance toward the Jewish
people. But it was the evangelical Christians, such as the Baptists and the
Pentecostals, who base their practice on a fundamentalist reading of the Bible,
who found in the Bible reason to love the Jews. They cite, for example, the
verse in Genesis 12:3 in which God says to Abraham, “I will bless those who
bless you, and curse those who curse you.”

They believe that the Bible proves Jewish ownership of the land
of Israel, because God gave it to the Jews. The evangelicals also consider the
Crusades to be the Catholics’ problems, and they attribute their love for the
Jewish people to something that they can’t quite explain.

“It’s supernatural,” said George Otis, the founder of Kol
Hatikvah, a Christian radio station that broadcasts in Israel and the Middle
East. “It’s something that God has spoken, and there is no explanation for it.
After 2,000 years of us being leery of each other, to suddenly see this love —
and this is not a temporary thing. This is going to last until Moshiach comes.”

“Something happens in your heart and you just feel compelled
to bless [the Jews],” said the Rev. Todd Hacker, the executive pastor at Hope
Chapel in the Valley.

This love has lead Hacker to teach a sermon series on the Middle
East, and to invite speakers from the Nexus into his church. He also uses the
collection plate to raise money for Israel and joins pro-Israel rallies, though
he does not organize any, because he prefers his church to stay out of
politics. He is also planning on joining the Nexus in its bid to find ways to
solve the water shortage crisis in Israel.

In Fresno, Stuart Weil, a local American Israel Public
Affairs Committee leader and member of the Israel Christian Nexus, organized a
joint rally with six churches and two synagogues. He also has regular meetings
with other church leaders to organize phone campaigns where parishioners call
their congressman to ask them to support President Bush, since, according to
Weil, Bush is the most pro-Israel president, ever.

At Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, Rabbi Daniel Bouskila
invited the Rev. Ray Bentley from the Maranatha Chapel in San Diego to
co-officiate a Friday night service at which Dennis Prager spoke. Bouskila is
also planning a Jewish-Christian Yom HaAtzmaut service this year, as well as a
possible joint trip to Israel with Bentley.

There are other benefits to the alliance. The Christian
community has arranged media appearances on national television and popular
radio stations for people like Erem, where they are given a platform to speak
about the reasons why Israel should be supported.

Daniel Johnson, a member of the Christian community, is
showing his love for Israel by donating his company’s new desalination
technology to Israel to assist with their water shortage problem.

“We have always had a heart for Israel because of our
Judeo-Christian faith,” Johnson said. “The Bible commands us to love and honor
Israel and to support it in whatever way we can, and whatever we can do to help
Israel, we do.

For many Christians, their pro-Israel stance is not grounded
in altruism as much as an eschatological belief that sees Israel as part of the
fulfillment of an end-of-days prophecy, where all Jews will return to Israel
and accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah. But many of the Christian groups who
join forces with the Jews separate their belief in the prophecy from their
current support of Israel.

“The prophecy is not a focus,” said Polly Grimes, who is
president of Tours Through The Book, a Christian Israel touring company that
runs Exodus Limited, an organization that raises funds for underprivileged
children in Israel.

“We just think of the needs [of Israelis] and what has been
happening,” she said. “We can’t stand to see the suffering, and it is breaking
our heart.”

However, the eschatological and the proselytizing component
of the evangelical Christian belief system can be problematic. In October 2002,
Jewish groups in San Diego boycotted a Mission Valley Christian Fellowship
dinner for thenJerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, because the money being raised from
the dinner was going to the Nicodemus Project, a church program aimed at
spreading the word of God in Israel.

Currently, groups like The International Fellowship of
Christians and Jews (which is affiliated with 20,000 churches and has more than
300,000 Christian donors) and the Israel Christian Nexus, will not work with
churches who proselytize.

“In private conversations with Church leaders it has been
made fairly clear to us that they are not interested in doing this or
participating with us for the purpose of converting Jews,” said Davis, senior
fellow of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies in Los Angeles. “Proselytism
is a concern, but it is not an issue. The issue is Israel’s survival. Until the
Messiah comes, we have to live in the present world and focus on our common
cause and our common enemy.”